After You Believe 7


Tom Wright’s newest book, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters , finishes off with practical suggestions of how to live out being the “royal priesthood” and living out the virtues in such a way that we become the image bearers (Eikons) God made us to be and has in mind for our future.
Chp 7 examines the big images — worship and mission — while chp 8 examines the cardinal, concrete practices (more below).
The whole idea of being rulers is turned inside out by Jesus: to rule means to die and to sacrifice oneself for others, and it in this context that Wright brings in evangelism. The holiness to which the Christian is to aim is about humility, patience, chastity and charity.
Many will, I suspect, by now want to know what Tom Wright has in mind at the concrete practical level. What are the practices that we are to observe in order that the virtues will become “second nature”?

Here they are, and he calls this the “virtuous circle”:

1. Scripture: reading and living the Story.
2. Stories: both in the Bible and outside.
3. Examples
4. Community: church community
5. Practices: worship, eucharist, baptism, prayer, giving, and Scripture reading.
These elements will, when done properly, lead a Christian in the direction of bearing the glory of God in this world.
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  • Scot, from reading your book about “conversion” I think you support that conversion can be both an event (Saul to Paul) and a process (Timothy growing up into the faith). In current (postmodern?) discussions I see huge shift toward conversion as a process. To the post: “These elements will, when done properly, lead a Christian in the direction of bearing the glory of God in this world.” Is that it? Will it also lead to announcing the Jesus is Lord reality in contextually sensitive ways? I think N.T. Wright also is into proclamation ‘evangelism,’ too. Is that accurate to say?

  • Sue

    I haven’t read the book, but the process to become virtuous sounds rather over-simplified. Shouldn’t confession be one of the practices? In my experience I have seen more virtue coming out of 12-step programs and out of extended counseling than I have out of the church. If Wright’s proposal is correct, why do we see so little virtue among Christians? Do most churches not practice correctly? Correctly according to what or to whom?

  • Robbie Mackenzie

    Did you say Tom Wright’s “practical” suggestions :). In all seriousness, this looks to be a good read. Thanks Scot for your work in the kingdom.

  • @Sue | Having read most of the book, I can assue that Wright’s overall approach to virtue is far from over-simplified!

  • Your Name

    SAs another Irish person who has read the conversation generated by Patrick’s article, it seems to me that comments issuing from participants on the American side of the ocean have very little idea of the impact of the recent disclosures of sexual abuse in the Irish context.
    A society, in which until comparatively recently 96% of the population would have described themselves as Catholic, the majority of whom were practising,has been devastated. Very many formerly devoted Catholics now feel themselves on the margins of the Church, if not teetering over the edge. Their deeply felt disiilusionment simply cannot be written off as media hype. It is too palpable everywhere and reflected in large reductions of attendance at Mass.
    It is the gravity of that scenario which lends weight and strength to Patrick’s recommendations.

  • T

    I had virtually the same thoughts and questions. I love Wright; he’s a wonderful asset to the Church. But this seems to say we should just keep doin’ what we’re doin’. That seems to require a certain amount of denial about the effectiveness (in terms of developing virtue) of our current ways of doing church.
    Thanks for mentioning confession. I find it fascinating that over the same period that the Church largely abandoned or overly mystified/formalized the practice (resulting in a loss of transformation, IMO), support groups were born and mined it for all it’s worth, pursuing and producing hard-core transformations and healing for people around the world.

  • Dana Ames

    I’m in the middle of the book right now, and Wright is not simply saying we should keep on doing what we’re doing. He explains what the goal is and how to approach it, and why we should be seeking Formation, though he doesn’t use that word too much. I hear a lot of echoes of Willard, and Wright gives a larger theological rationale with an even bigger picture than DW.
    He also says we should expect to suffer. Ya don’t hear that much these days.

  • I have not read this far yet in Wright’s book. It will be interesting to hear him flesh out some of these practices. I do think he is very much on target in stressing the importance of these practices.

  • Tom must be going soft on the Church being the “light of the world” in practical ways – this “virtuous circle” is very airy-fair – I don’t see how this helps the world. It may make us “holy” but it ain’t enough – Jesus prayed alone AND went out and healed, cleansed, forgave and raised. As I know Tom he’s a let’s get down and “implement” the Kingdom man and not a holy-huddle guy.

  • David

    I finished this book yesterday–including the Afterward. What became clear to me as I read how far the biblical vision of Christian living as Wright presented it is both deeper and more profound than what is typically taught in contemporary Evangelical churches in the States. I was impressed by his playing off Aristotelian understandings of virtue ethics (my graduate studies are in philosophy) in understanding the milieu in which Paul was unfolding the Christian life. This not only reveals Paul’s understanding, but Wright also models well how we are today to unfold the Christian life that as so easily been accommodated by American values. Another thing that I like about this book is the way Wright shows how Paul locates the Christian life in the unfolding One Story of God’s redemption of his world. God is redeeming a people (not just individuals) for the sake of his world. We the People of God (the one new humanity in Christ) are to reveal God’s glory to the world–oh, how lesser visions of the Christian life have failed the church here. And, as Wright continues to say in many of his writings, we the Church are to be at those places of pain and sorrow in the world working for redemption. This is where nicely Wright’s stuff on the community virtues is so helpful–the church out in the world revealing the glory of God in what they do to bring healing and light to the brokeness and darkness of the world. Wright sees Paul as unpacking what it means for us to be what God wants for the world–genuine humanness in Christ the Lord.
    This is a book that I’ll return to again and again–and not least in developing curricula for the church.